Sleep, Performance and how to change your behavior
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Sleep, Performance and how to change your behavior

What if you were told that there is a treatment that could make you better at any skill or activity you set out to pursue? What if you were told that this treatment is accessible to everyone and completely free of cost? This treatment is called adequate sleep and you are most likely not administering it to yourself.

Every night, you have the opportunity to contribute to a healthier, fitter, and happier self (Dement and Vaughan, 1999). Yet, the vast majority of adolescents choose to forgo said sleep in order to spend more time with friends, finish schoolwork or watch “one more” episode of their favorite show (National Sleep Foundation, 2006). It’s probably “one more game of SoloQ/Ranked” for you, but it still applies. 

This article talks about why you, especially as an athlete, should reconsider your priorities and how best to achieve a sustained change in behavior. 


Research

As postulated by the World Health Organization, inadequate sleep has become an epidemic throughout industrialized nations. A study showed that only about 20% of adolescent Americans get a sufficient amount of 8-9 hours of sleep per night (National Sleep Foundation, 2006). Athletes especially struggle to maintain high sleeping standards, even though they are a group that could profit massively (Simpson et al., 2017).

Apart from living a longer and healthier life, getting a sufficient amount of sleep every night has also been shown to yield instant athletic benefits in traditional sports. For example, a study with varsity Basketball players has shown that various measures of performance such as speed and shooting accuracy were improved significantly after a longer period of sufficient sleep (Mah et al., 2011).

In elite soccer players, it was found that sleep deprivation after a game led to increased generalized body pain and enhanced inflammatory responses. This is either due to greater amount of exercise induced damage or an impaired rate of repair as consequences of insufficient sleep (Nédélec et al., 2015). These two studies alone demonstrate that sleep is incremental in preparing an athlete for peak performance, but also in allowing optimal regeneration afterwards. 

In a brand-new study on sleep in professional esports athletes, Lee et al. (2021) found that they had an average sleeping time of 6.8 hours, which is significantly shorter than the recommended 8-9 hours of sleep per night. Furthermore, approximately half of their participants showed a sleep onset latency close to clinical insomnia and experienced excessive daytime sleepiness (Lee et al., 2021). Overall, this study suggests that there are various reasons why sleep interventions might be needed for esports athletes. 


How to change your behavior?

Yet, a vast majority of (esports) athletes are neglecting sleep, oftentimes well aware of the possible negative consequences. Why is it, then, that knowledge alone is not enough? 

As proposed by the Health Action Process Approach (HAPA), mere knowledge does not suffice to make changes in health behavior (Schwarzer, 2016). 

As demonstrated in Figure 1 below, sustained change in behavior will only occur if you have the motivation and intention to change your behavior, if the new behavior you strive for is well planned and, lastly, the new behavior is maintained. 

Figure 1: Health Action Process Approach (Schwarzer, 1992, 2008, 2016)
Figure 1: Health Action Process Approach (Schwarzer, 1992, 2008, 2016)

An intention to change behavior is constructed by your outcome expectations, which can either be negative (If I continue to sleep inadequately, I will not be able to perform well) or positive (If I sleep more, I can hit my skill shots better), as well as how at risk you see yourself by the negative consequences of your current health behavior. A third factor is your self-efficacy, or how capable you feel to adapt the new health behavior, here, better sleep. Only if these aspects align can an intention be formed that will eventually lead to a sustained change in behavior (Schwarzer, 2016). 

However, this intention needs to be transformed into detailed instruction on how to perform the new behavior. This process called planning is concerned with the when, where and how you could best implement the new behavior. For example set a fixed schedule for bedtime, only use your bed for sleep, not other activities like homework and refrain from consuming caffeine in the hours before bedtime (I often recommend no caffeine after 2 pm).

Once you have established a routine that allows you to sleep adequately, you have to maintain this new behavior. In this phase, you will encounter resources, such as a partner who encourages you to sleep more and stays in bed with you, but also barriers, such as the inability to fall asleep early or in invite for “one more ranked game” (Schwarzer, 2016).

In accordance with recent theories on self-control, it would be easiest for you to overcome barriers by avoiding them wherever you can (Duckworth, Milkman and Laibson, 2018). For example, it will be easier for you to go to bed on time when you manage to avoid the temptation offered by another game invite. So having your friends know that you won’t be playing after a certain time, or closing your game client as soon as you have finished your last game would certainly help you stick to your plan. 

In only a few minutes of reading time, you have not only learned that sleep can make you a better athlete but hopefully also how to achieve more and better sleep in the future. Of all healthy habits, this might be the easiest and most comfortable. Just grab a pillow and a cozy blanket, snuggle up and you are good to go.

While some benefits of adequate sleep of 8-9 hours are instantaneous, a full recovery from insufficient sleep takes time (Yamazaki et al., 2020). Start with the steps above and as soon as you maintain adequate sleep, give yourself a few more weeks. By that time – as neuroscientist and psychologist Dr. Matthew Walker would say – sleep will have become your superpower. 

Would you like to learn more about mental coaching, nutrition and performance? Make sure to check out our mYindset articles!

Literature

Dement, W. C., & Vaughan, C. (1999). The promise of sleep: A pioneer in sleep medicine explores the vital connection between health, happiness, and a good night’s sleep. Dell Publishing Co. 

Duckworth, A. L., Milkman, K. L., & Laibson, D. (2018). Beyond Willpower: Strategies for Reducing Failures of Self-Control. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 19(3), 102–129. https://doi.org/10.1177/1529100618821893 

Lee, S., Bonnar, D., Roane, B., Gradisar, M., Dunican, I. C., Lastella, M., … Suh, S. (2021). Sleep Characteristics and Mood of Professional Esports Athletes: A Multi-National Study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(2), 664. doi:10.3390/ijerph18020664 

Mah, C.D., Mah K.E., Kezirian E.J. & Dement W.C. (2011). The effects of sleep extension on the athletic performance of collegiate basketball players. SLEEP, 34(7):943-950. 

National Sleep Foundation. (2006). Sleep in America Polls. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/professionals/sleep-americar-polls/2006-teens-and-sleep 

Nédélec, M., Halson, S., Abaidia, A. et al. (2015). Stress, Sleep and Recovery in Elite Soccer: A Critical Review of the Literature. Sports Med 45, 1387–1400. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-015-0358-z 

Schwarzer, R. (2016). Health Action Process Approach (HAPA) as a Theoretical Framework to Understand Behavior Change. Actualidades En Psicología, 30(121), 119-130. https://doi.org/10.15517/ap.v30i121.23458

Simpson, N.S., Gibbs, E.L. & Matheson, G.O. (2017). Optimizing sleep to maximize performance: implications and recommendations for elite athletes. Scand J Med Sci Sports 27, 266–74.

Yamazaki, E. M., Antler, C. A., Lasek, C. R. & Goel, N. (2020). Residual: Differential neurobehavioral deficits linger after multiple recovery nights following chronic sleep restriction or acute total sleep deprivation, Sleep, zsaa224. https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/zsaa224